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Excellence Initiative – European Research Council – Temporary Positions for Principal Investigators: The DFG presents its 2007 annual report

The year 2007 was a successful one for the German scientific community. The research landscape was stimulated by both the second round of the Excellence Initiative as well as the new European Research Council (ERC), which was inspired by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). In addition, traditional DFG funding programmes were adapted to even better meet the current needs of the scientists.

All of this resulted in considerably more windows of opportunity for science and research, as the DFG’s 2007 annual report shows. The report was presented today by the DFG – Germany's largest research funding organisation – during the course of its annual press conference in Berlin. The windows of opportunity were symbolised in the cover photo, which was prepared by a renowned science photographer especially for the annual report: The photo shows a seemingly endless starlit sky above the Head Office of the DFG in Bonn.

As the richly illustrated and journalistically written report shows, 2007 was marked not least of all by the second round of the Excellence Initiative, the results of which were announced on 19 October in Bonn. Approved here were a further 21 graduate schools for the structured education of young researchers and 20 excellence clusters for the cultivation of innovative, top-level research. These programmes convinced the multinational peer review panels as well as the Joint Commission of the DFG and the German Science Council and, lastly, the Grants Committee from the scientific and political community, which is ultimately responsible for the decision.

Furthermore, six additional universities were awarded the coveted Excellence Status and funding reaching into the millions of euros for their innovative development projects for the project-related cultivation of university-based top-level research. The 47 Centres of Excellence from the second round are located at 28 different universities and will now be funded through 2012 with more than one billion euros.

More windows of opportunity for researchers: This is the objective of the reorientation of "Temporary Positions for Principal Investigators," which was agreed upon by the Joint Committee of the DFG at the end of 2007. It enables scientists to attract funding for their own research projects within Germany. Previously, "Temporary Positions for Principal Investigators" could generally only be received within the six years following the doctorate. This is now possible without any time limit for a period of three instead of previously two years. With the changes, the DFG would like to open the "Temporary Positions for Principal Investigators" programme for young researchers, which is in high demand, to even more researchers and, at the same time, simplify the programme.

The new DFG Young Researcher Academies, which were able to establish themselves as an interdisciplinary funding instrument in 2007, are oriented towards a number of carefully selected young researchers prior to submission of their first DFG proposal. Through a selection process, certain "early postdocs" are given the opportunity to become familiarised with particularly innovative and important state-of-the-art techniques and methods through presentations, internships and laboratory visits – and this specifically in areas where there is a shortage of qualified young researchers in Germany. A second phase will give participants the chance to submit their first own project proposal to the DFG.

The efficiency and good reputation of the DFG and its funding programmes were characterised in 2007 not least of all by the fact that they served as role models across national borders. This applies, in particular, for the European Research Council (ERC) in Brussels, which was established in Berlin under great fanfare in early 2007. For the first time, the ERC gives scientists across Europe the opportunity to attract third party funding from a funding pool totalling 7.5 billion euros: Even the two basic principles of the ERC – scientific excellence and political independence – are based on the proven maxims of the DFG.

And during programme development of the so-called ERC Starting Grants for the establishment of independent research units for young researchers, the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme was used as a model. Moreover, the ERC Launch Conference held in Berlin in February 2007 was hosted by the DFG.

During the course of the report year, the DFG also obtained a new dual leadership: At the start of January the DFG named, for the first time, an engineering scientist, Matthias Kleiner, as President. He was followed by lawyer Dorothee Dzwonnek, who was appointed the new Secretary General by the Joint Committee at the suggestion of the DFG Executive Committee. Together with Matthias Kleiner, the pair forms the Executive Board of the DFG.

Numbers and facts for 2007

The DFG’s income in 2007 was 1.733 billion euros. Of this, 62.9 percent came from the federal government, 36.7 percent from the states and 0.4 percent from foundations and private donations.

In the funding programmes, 1,004 on-going programmes were approved with a total of 21,089 individual research projects. The total amount of approvals was 2.167 billion euros (including funding that is distributed over multiple years). Of this, 635.4 million euros were approved for the Individual Grants Programme and 136.1 million euros for the direct support for young researchers. A total of 1.182 billion euros were allocated to the DFG’s so-called coordinated programmes – 440.9 million euros of which went to 292 Collaborative Research Centres, 119.9 million euros to 267 Research Training Groups, 159.5 million euros to 121 Priority Programmes, 150.2 million euros to 219 Research Units (including Clinical Research Units), 41.5 million euros to six DFG Research Centres and 2.2 million euros to two Humanities Research Centres. A total of 184.5 million euros were approved for the programmes of the Excellence Initiative.

Broken down according to scientific disciplines, 38.5 percent of the approved sum was allocated to the life sciences, 25.7 percent to the natural sciences, 21.6 percent to the engineering sciences and 14.2 percent to the humanities and social sciences.

Jutta Hoehn | alfa
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